'Star Trek Into Darkness' Box Office: Why J.J. Abrams' 'Star Trek' Sequel Didn't Vault Into Warp Drive

Warning: Spoilers about "Star Trek Into Darkness" lie ahead.

Looks like the phasers were set to stun after all: despite the added benefit of 3-D surcharges, "Star Trek Into Darkness" opened with $84 million over its first four days of release, just $9 million more than its 2009 predecessor managed in just three days. (Over three days, "Star Trek Into Darkness" made $5 million less than "Star Trek.") That's a far cry from the $100 million opening Paramount had targeted for "Into Darkness" following its $13.5 million opening day on Thursday. While it's doubtful there are too many tears being shed on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise -- "Star Trek Into Darkness" added $80 million overseas, already putting it on track to top the $127 million "Star Trek" earned internationally in 2009 -- the "Into Darkness" opening was a domestic disappointment. Why did J.J. Abrams' highly anticipated film trip out of the starting gate? Ahead, five possible explanations.

The Failure Of Mystery The worst kept secret of 2013? That Benedict Cumberbatch plays Khan in "Star Trek Into Darkness." (It's even listed on the "Star Trek Into Darkness" IMDb page.) In fact, speculation had Khan as the main "Star Trek Into Darkness" villain before Cumberbatch even signed on for the film: As early as December of 2011, when Benicio Del Toro was briefly attached to the "Star Trek" sequel, both Vulture and Latino Review reported that Khan was the film's bad guy. Not that Abrams seemed to care: he plowed forward with the idea of keeping Khan's identity a secret all the way through release this past week. (He famously told HitFix reporter Drew McWeeny that the report of Del Toro playing Khan was "not true," which was technically correct, but didn't necessarily tell the whole story.)

That play may have backfired. Khan is basically the only recognizable "Star Trek" villain to a majority of the viewing public, and the specter of having him face off with Kirk and Spock could have enticed non-"Star Trek" fans to show up at theaters this weekend. That, apparently, was Paramount's thinking: According to Devin Faraci at Badass Digest, the studio reportedly conceived "a move to reveal" Khan during March Madness, but that marketing campaign never materialized. Alas, maybe next time.

The Passage Of Time "Star Trek" came out on May 8, 2009, just one month after "Fast & Furious" and three weeks before "The Hangover." Two years later, "Fast Five" and "The Hangover Part II," the sequels to those films, combined to gross over $1.2 billion around the world. For blockbusters, time is always of the essence: it's why "Fast Six" and "The Hangover Part III" are both coming out on May 24, and why "Fast Seven" will arrive in theaters next summer. Abrams and his team received credit for not rushing "Star Trek Into Darkness" into production, but they might have taken too long. It's almost surprising Paramount didn't simply reboot "Star Trek" again, a la what Sony did with the Spider-Man franchise last year.

The Competition Speaking of four years ago: "Star Trek" was released one week after "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and one week before "Angels & Demons," two films that didn't really excite audiences in any meaningful way. "Star Trek Into Darkness," meanwhile, went up against leggy hits "Iron Man 3" and "The Great Gatsby," and comes just one week before the aforementioned duo of "Fast Six" and "The Hangover Part III." That's a minefield of popular franchises with massive movies stars at the helm. Compared to those movies, "Star Trek Into Darkness" almost feels like an under-the-radar indie film -- albeit one with a budget near $190 million.

The Stars Aren't Necessarily Stars Star power is another problem: In the two years between "The Hangover" and "The Hangover Part II," Bradley Cooper appeared in "Valentine's Day" ($216 million worldwide), "The A-Team" ($177 million worldwide) and "Limitless" ($161 million worldwide), Zach Galifianakis made "Due Date" ($211 million worldwide) and Ed Helms continued his successful run on "The Office." Things weren't as flush for the "Star Trek" cast: Chris Pine's only significant live-action success was the 2010 film "Unstoppable" ($167 million worldwide), and he appeared in the high profile flop "This Means War." The good news for Zoe Saldana was that she played the female lead in "Avatar," the highest grossing movie ever; the bad news for "Star Trek" was that her entire role was animated by James Cameron's visual effects wizards. In the end, no one other than Zachary Quinto -- who, it could be argued, is more famous for being Zachary Quinto than being a movie star -- made any significant impact in the pop culture landscape during the last four years. Maybe "Star Trek Into Darkness" should have found room for The Rock or Channing Tatum.

The Other "Star" The fastest way to diminish audience interest in "Star Trek"? Change the conversation to "Star Wars." That's what Abrams did when he accepted the director's gig for "Episode VII" on Jan. 24 of this year. Not only did it take the wind out of the "Into Darkness" sails, it turned Abrams' press obligations -- important extensions of the film's marketing campaign -- into "Star Wars" plugs. (It's not like the "Star Trek" part of Jimmy Kimmel's recent interview with Abrams went viral.) Without a major A-list star in front of the film, Abrams became the face of "Star Trek Into Darkness." His Force, however, is now in a galaxy far, far away. It's enough to make a "Star Trek" fan -- or Paramount executive -- do this.

Michael Giacchino Scores